In his best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey encourages his readers to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This habit is just as important for effective teamwork and communication.
Much of the conflict and tension in teams starts with a failure to understand another team member’s position, issues, or concerns.
Try these techniques to actively listen to your teammates:
Prepare to Listen. Shift your focus and attention to the person speaking. Send a non-verbal signal (like turning your head toward the speaker) that you are giving that person your undivided attention.
Actively Listen. Listen with the intent to understand the speaker’s words, putting aside your own agenda and immediate response.
Listen for Meaning. Use all your senses to take in information. Listen not only with your ears but with your eyes and heart. Take in the non-verbals, the tone, the pace, and feel what the other person is saying.
Interpret the Message. As we take in all this information focus on understanding what the speaker intends. Put yourself in his or her position. Be aware of your own values and beliefs that act as filters between the speaker’s message and your interpretation.
Check for Understanding. Paraphrase or rephrase what was said and check for agreement:
- “What I hear you saying is…”
- “As I understand it…”
- “Let me see if I understand what you are saying…”
- “So you think (hope, feel, believe)…”
Caution: Do not parrot word for word what was said. You want to demonstrate that you not only heard what was said, but you understand the meaning behind what was said.
Draw Them Out. Ask open-ended questions to get more information:
- “What are your ideas about…”
- “What do you think about…”
- “Would you please say some more about…”
- “Help me to understand…”
- “How do you see that working?”
Clarify as Necessary. Ask questions to gain a clearer understanding of what has been said, especially when you think there are differences in the way a word is used or defined:
- “What do you mean by…”
- “When you say…”
Test the Unsaid. Sometimes, the real issue has not been spoken about. If you sense there is something that hasn’t been said, test it out:
- “I am wondering if you might be concerned about….”
- “If we do this, are you concerned about…?”
Reflect the Feeling. This is the key to empathetic listening where you seek to understand the speaker’s feelings as well as the words:
- “I sense you are …”
- “You look troubled (worried, frustrated)…”
Resist the temptation to advise, criticize or judge when listening and asking questions. Make a conscious effort to understand other points of view. Be sincere and genuine in your desire as you actively listen and you will enhance your teamwork.